Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Made With Love

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

"As the first yield of your baking (challah), you shall set aside as a gift." (Numbers 15:20)

"The offering of dough is different from the offering of the first fruits... It represents the human achievement of mixing several ingredients to make something new, different from any of its components. Even the products of human creativity are to be considered gifts from God. (Etz Hayim p. 852)

Last Shabbat, I had one of my daughters visiting for shabbat and Friday afternoon we had the chance to cook together. It was the first time that ever happened. We made gazpacho for an appetizer and stir fried noodles with asparagus, tofu and cashews for the entree. I think it tasted better than anything I have ever made on my own and I am not sure it had anything to do with ingredients we used. I think it had everything to do with the love that went into it. You could just taste it.


Making challah has long been a wonderful custom. As articulated in many of the codes of Jewish law, this activity is elevated to level of preparing special vessels for Shabbat and enhancing our practice of this time honored observance. Even though I am a fan of buying challah because some of the area's bakeries do a far better job than I could possible hope to achieve, I can certainly understand why the rabbis encourage us to make challah from scratch.

This past Sunday so many gathered to celebrate the engagement of my son Adi to Meagan. It was joyful, celebratory and the love was all around. Each week we get to taste Lori Sloane and Sherry Padva's cooking with whomever they can recruit on any given Shabbos. This Sunday they certainly outdid themselves. The truth is, each week they prepare lunch with careful attention to the details and make sure to add the right amount of dedication and love. It is for that we are most grateful.


How Flexible Are We?

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat! (Numbers 11:4)

And Moses gathered all of the people who were there on the 23rd of Iyar (Hizkuni, according to tradition this is the day the Hebrews arrived in Refidim and Moses struck the rock to provide water for the people. )

There are those who identify with a cause.  While the cause may not be their own, they recognize the importance of the struggle and throw their lot in with those who support the cause. I sat in protest on the steps of John Jay Hall at Columbia in order to encourage the university to divest from South Africa because of the injustice of apartheid.   I joined the Guardian Angels, not because I was fearful on the subways, but because I understood there were people who were fearful.  Sometimes we act selflessly in order to support others who cannot act for themselves.  Sometimes we simply want to be a part of something.

I can easily understand the pragmatic reason why, when the Hebrew slaves were freed from Egypt, others chose to go along for the ride.  Freedom for the Hebrews was an opportunity for others to go in search of a better life as well.  What is remarkable is Hizkuni's understanding of those people. 

Hizkuni's comment is that Moses didn't immediately accept those people who were tagging along, but when water was required, when sustenance was needed, Moses included them.  It is almost counterintuitive.  When the people were thirsting, Moses could have easily remarked, "Hebrews first."  Instead, Hizkuni reads Moses as inclusive, sharing the fortune of the people.  Moses essentially says, "There is enough water to go around."

So too we must act today.  There are many people who have chosen to connect with our people but have not chosen to convert.  Our tradition refers to them as oheiv yisroel, lovers of our people.  They are people who may have some connection with our sacred religion, maybe through marriage, maybe through friendship; and they enter our community.

This week I announce a new initiative in our community designed to address this critical issue.  How can we be welcoming while maintaining our standards of traditional practice?  Beginning with my Finish Strong class (Saturdays 1:00 pm) we will study what our tradition says about how far our boundaries can bend. Please join us for this important discussion.